CASA volunteers needed
It is awareness week for a local organization that recruits volunteers to support children in the foster care system.
Alana Maddox is the Program Director for Big Country CASA in Taylor County.
“CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. It is a program that uses volunteers to serve children who have been abused and neglected and are in the foster care system,” Maddox says.
The program has 18 volunteers but needs ten times that many to serve every child in the court system. Volunteers go through hours of training before taking the time-intensive role.
“You have to be in court when the child has court and the CASA attends family group conferences or any meetings that are working toward the best interest of the child,” Maddox says. “So it is not something that you do lightly.”
The CASA assigned to help one local girl did not take her role lightly. Janet Clem looked after the girl for almost a decade. To protect the girl’s identity, her real name will not be used in this interview. Instead, she will be called “Maya.” Maya was put into foster care as a small child and shuffled through ten different placements before being adopted. She is a teenager now and says her CASA saved her life.
“My CASA worker’s name is Granny Janet and she’s really really sweet and I know she really loves me and that makes my heart feel really warm inside,” Maya says.
Janet Clem, or as Maya calls her, “Granny Janet,” treated the girl like another grandchild- taking her out to eat and teaching her to bake. But she also kept a close eye on the homes where Maya was placed, even having her removed from one home because of poor conditions.
“I’ve known her since I was four but it kind of feels like as I climb up these years, it kind of feels like I’ve known her my whole life,” Maya says. “Because through every home that I’ve been through, I’ve learned that those people would only last a certain amount of time. But I knew I could always run to Granny Janet because she’s always there.”
Providing Stability is the key role of an advocate. Alana Maddox says children in foster care may see their social worker change, or like Maya, they may be in and out many different homes but their CASA is constant, always reliable.
“Children are the future of our community,” Maddox says. “And if a CASA can help a child or a sibling group get into a home where they feel loved, safe and secure, then that’s going to impact the rest of their lives. And it has a ripple effect because it’s going to impact the family and ultimately it’s going to impact our community. If children grow up feeling loved they’re going to be more productive citizens. They’re going to be people who can give back to the community because they have been given to in their own time of need.”
There are CASA programs throughout Texas but Big Country CASA was introduced to Abilene in April. More than 300 children are expected to be in the Taylor County foster care system this year.